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October 20, 2005

From the Publisher

Let's get honest


Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond poked a cow pie during the Oct. 5 Arcata City Council meeting with his criticism of medical marijuana. And Denver Nelson --- a retired neurosurgeon, who spends most of his time these days waging a personal jihad to save North Coast rivers --- quickly came to Rollin's defense in a guest opinion last week in the Times-Standard. (For the Journal's report, see page 6.)

Marijuana --- the elephant in the living room --- should indeed be the subject of an honest community dialogue. So what did these men say that was so controversial?

First, that marijuana is not a medicine. I'll give them both half a point on the honesty scale. It is abundantly clear from a reporter's view that this medical marijuana campaign is largely bogus, meaning many of those pushing for the right to freely grow, buy and use the drug are not doing so for legitimate medical reasons. Many simply want to medicate themselves for psychological, social and recreational reasons. And actually, I have little argument with adults who choose to medicate themselves as long as they don't harm others. (Coffee, alcohol, cigars smoked outside in the open air.)

But who can conclude at this stage that pot is not medicine --- not a potentially useful drug --- when there is so much research to be done? Let's listen to some caregivers and physicians who have experience with the end-of-life issues of their cancer patients --- symptoms such as nausea, appetite loss, anxiety and depression. Sure, a physician can try to add three or four more drugs to their patient's nasty daily cocktail. Or maybe there needs to be some real clinical trials on a measured dose of inhaled marijuana administered on an as-needed basis by the patient himself, much like they do now with pain control morphine pumps in the hospital? Maybe it would be better than four different medicines for the four above symptoms?

Second, marijuana is a gateway drug. Rollin gets no points here. There is a serious gap in logic in such statements. It is true that crack and heroin addicts probably all used marijuana prior to hard drugs because marijuana is readily available especially to people who are going to break laws anyway. But that's like saying alcohol is a gateway drug to heroin, or drinking Coke and Pepsi is a gateway drug to alcohol. Because they came first?

Those of us who have been in Humboldt County for many years know plenty of people who occasionally or even regularly use marijuana and we also know they would never consider hard drugs. They are productive members of society and cause very few, if any, real societal problems. Unlike alcohol or meth users, they don't become aggressive behind the wheel of a car and they don't tend to beat their kids.

There is much in Rollin's statements to the Arcata Council and to our reporter to agree with, however. The potency of the drug has increased exponentially. And I, too, am particularly concerned about the effects of pot on young people. Teenage years are tough enough to endure without the serious distraction of pot.

I also agree that what we have done here in Humboldt County is to create an illegal industry that uses government services and social infrastructure, and doesn't pay taxes. Those involved in the underground marijuana industry --- pot for sale and profit --- do not shoulder their share of the burdens of society, so the rest of us pay more.

What we didn't get into in the Journal's brief interview with Rollin last week was his previous statements that he, in fact, believes marijuana should be legalized, taxed and controlled, like alcohol. I agree. And it would certainly alleviate some overcrowding in the prisons to boot.



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